Sunday, April 27, 2014

Buddha on Not-Self (Anattalakkhana Sutta)


Thus I have heard. At one time the Blessed One was living in the deer park of Isipatana near Benares. There, indeed, the Blessed One addressed the group of five monks:

“Form, O monks, is not-self; if form were self, then form would not lead to affliction and it should obtain regarding form: ’May my form be thus, may my form not be thus;’ and indeed, O monks, since form is not-self, therefore form leads to affliction and it does not obtain regarding form: ’May my form be thus, may my form not be thus.’ Feeling, O monks, is not-self; if feeling were self, then feeling would not lead to affliction and it should obtain regarding feeling: ’May my feeling be thus, may my feeling not be thus;’ and indeed,

O monks, since feeling is not-self, therefore feeling leads to affliction and it does not obtain regarding feeling: ’May my feeling be thus, may my feeling not be thus.’

“Perception, O monks, is not-self; if perception were self, then perception would not lead to affliction and it should obtain regarding perception: ’May my perception be thus, may my perception not be thus;’ and indeed, O monks, since perception is not-self, therefore, perception leads to affliction and it does not obtain regarding perception: ’May my perception be thus, may my perception not be thus.’

“Mental formations, O monks, are not-self; if mental formations were self, then mental formations would not lead to affliction and it should obtain regarding mental formations:

’May my mental formations be thus, may my mental formations not be thus;’ and indeed,

O monks, since mental formations are not-self, therefore, mental formations lead to affliction and it does not obtain regarding mental formations: ’May my mental formations be thus, may my mental formations not be thus.’

“Consciousness, O monks, is not-self; if consciousness were self, then consciousness would not lead to affliction and it should obtain regarding consciousness: ’May my consciousness be thus, may my consciousness not be thus;’ and indeed, O monks, since consciousness is not-self, therefore, consciousness leads to affliction and it does not obtain regarding consciousness: ’May my consciousness be thus, may my consciousness not be thus.’

“What do you think of this, O monks? Is form permanent or impermanent?”

 “Impermanent, O Blessed One.”

 “Now, that which is impermanent, is it unsatisfactory or satisfactory?”

 “Unsatisfactory, O Blessed One.”

 “Now, that which is impermanent, unsatisfactory, subject to change, is it proper to regard that as: ’This is mine, this I am, this is my self?’”

 “Indeed, not that, O Blessed One.”

“What do you think of this, O monks? Is feeling permanent or impermanent?”

 “Impermanent, O Blessed One.”

 “Now that which is impermanent, is it unsatisfactory or satisfactory?”

 “Unsatisfactory, O Blessed One.”

 “Now, that which is impermanent, unsatisfactory, subject to change, is it proper to regard that as: ’This is mine, this I am, this is my self?’”

 “Indeed, not that, O Blessed One.”

“What do you think of this, O monks? Is perception permanent or impermanent?”

 “Impermanent, O Blessed One.”

 Now, what is impermanent, is it unsatisfactory or satisfactory?”

 “Unsatisfactory, O Blessed One.”

 “Now, that which is impermanent, unsatisfactory, subject to change, is it proper to regard that as: ’This is mine, this I am, this is my self?’”

 “Indeed, not that, O Blessed One.”

 “What do you think of this, O monks? Are mental formations permanent or impermanent?”

 “Impermanent, O Blessed One.”

 “Now, those that are impermanent are they unsatisfactory or satisfactory?”

 Unsatisfactory, O Blessed One.”

 “Now, those that are impermanent, unsatisfactory, subject to change, is it proper to regard them as: ‘They are mine, this I am, this is my self?’”

 “Indeed, not that, O Blessed One”.

 “Now what do you think of this, O monks? Is consciousness permanent or impermanent?”

 “Impermanent, O Blessed One.”

 “Now, what is impermanent, is that unsatisfactory or satisfactory?”

 “Unsatisfactory, O Blessed One.”

 “Now, what is impermanent, unsatisfactory, subject to change, is it proper to regard it as: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self?’”

 “Indeed, not that, O Blessed One”.

 “Therefore, surely, O monks, whatever form, past, future or present, internal or external, coarse or fine, low or lofty, far or near, all that form must be regarded with proper wisdom, according to reality, thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self’.

“Therefore, surely, O monks, whatever feeling, past, future or present, internal or external, coarse or fine, low or lofty, far or near, all that feeling must be regarded with proper wisdom, according to reality, thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self’.

“Therefore, surely, O monks, whatever perception, past, future or present, internal or external, coarse or fine, low or lofty, far or near, all that conception must be regarded with proper wisdom, according to reality, thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self’.

“Therefore, surely O monks, whatever mental formations, past, future or present, internal or external, coarse or fine, low or lofty, far or near, all those mental formations must be regarded with proper wisdom, according to reality, thus: ‘These are not mine, this I am not, this is not my self’.

“Therefore, surely, O monks, whatever consciousness, past, future or present, internal or external, coarse or fine, low or lofty, far or near, all that consciousness must be regarded with proper wisdom, according to reality, thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self’.

“O monks, the well-instructed noble disciple, seeing thus, gets wearied of form, gets wearied of feeling, gets wearied of perception, gets wearied of mental formations, gets wearied of consciousness. Being wearied he becomes passion-free. In his freedom from passion he is emancipated. Being emancipated there is the knowledge that he is emancipated. He knows: birth is exhausted, lived is the holy life, what had to be done is done, there is nothing more of this becoming.”

This the Blessed One said. Pleased, the group of five monks were delighted with the exposition of the Blessed One; moreover, as this exposition was being spoken the minds of the group of five monks were freed of defilements, without attachment.

Indeed, at that time there were six arahants in the world.
 
(Anattalakkhana Sutta - Discourse on the Characteristics of Not-Self, Tipitaka, Samyutta-Nikaya 22:59)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Buddha's Raft

In the similitude of Buddha’s teaching to a raft*, it is explained that we shouldn’t cling to Buddhist teachings but rather use them for “crossing over to the other shore.” (The other shore being a synonym for enlightenment.)  This is because Buddhist teachings (Dharma) are expedient means (upaya) to achieve awakening, and not doctrines to be clung to and identified with. In fact, if we cling to the teachings as indispensable dogmas, we can never achieve complete release from suffering, for the latter entails letting go of all attachments, including the Buddhist teachings themselves. Indeed, in letter to this author, the well-known Buddhist monk Ajahn Sumedho wrote that enlightenment involves a complete letting go of everything including Buddhist teachings to realize what he calls ‘ultimate simplicity.’

To understand this point further, it would be helpful to look at Buddhist teachings as part of the noble eightfold path (ariya-attangika-magga). In this path, Buddhist teachings are known as ‘right-view’ (samma-ditthi), as opposed to other views which are classified as ‘wrong-views’ (miccha-ditthi). Right-view is ‘right’ because it leads to awakening to the way things are, which is what Buddhism is ultimately about. Wrong-views are ‘wrong’ because they do not lead to such an awakening. But, as written above, Buddhist teachings are skillful means that point to this awakening and merely believing in them or identifying with them does not use them in the correct way, if enlightenment is one’s aim. So, right-view is not so much the holding of certain views as opposed to others, but rather a different way of looking at life altogether. It is this seeing that is the doorway that opens to a whole new vista that we might term the enlightened perspective.

Obviously, right-view (which includes the four noble truths, the three characteristics, dependent arising, and emptiness, not to mention many other major Buddhist teachings) is to be used in some way by the Buddhist aspirant, otherwise what is its purpose? Well, right-view exists as a focus for reflection; we should develop a calm, focused mind though meditation and then reflect upon right-view to allow our inner wisdom to illumine the above teachings. In this way, right-view is developed as opposed to clung to. This means that Buddhist teachings are not doctrines to be dogmatically adhered to and argued for in the face of other, different beliefs, but tools by which we awaken our innate wisdom. Arguing with someone that holds different views to our own may feel good or right, but this is not the purpose of Buddhist teachings; using them in this way to uphold our sense of self as a Buddhist is a major hindrance to awakening to our true nature. Indeed, it should be abundantly clear that to cling to the Buddhist teachings, which include the teaching of not-self (anatta), as a form of self-identification is nonsense. Right-view is right not because it is clung to but rather because it is reflected upon correctly.

Right-view is right in another way, too. It is right because it is the absence of any specific view at all. Instead, it is the experience of enlightenment, awakening. And this is neither the result of holding particular views nor is it an intellectual understanding of such views. Rather, it is the transcendence of all views altogether, and the realization of what Ajahn Sumedho calls ultimate simplicity. Thing is, caught up as we are in the delusory self-view (sakkaya-ditthi), we require teachings to enable us to free ourselves from our self-made prisons. This is where right-view comes in; reflecting on it with a calm focus can free us of the delusion of self, revealing our true nature in its unfettered state. Using Buddhist teachings wisely in this way is to truly follow the example of Buddha, and like him, will lead us to the ultimate unbinding from all views. May we all use right-view to achieve awakening!

 *See the previous article on Buddha Space, ‘Buddha on His Teaching As a Raft,’ dated 07/04/2014.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Buddha on His Teaching as a Raft

“I shall show you, monks, the Teaching’s similitude to a raft: as having the purpose of crossing over, not the purpose of being clung to. Listen, monks, and heed well what I shall say.”
 
“Yes, Blessed One,” replied the monks.
 
And the Blessed One spoke thus: “Suppose, monks, there is a man journeying on a road and he sees a vast expanse of water, of which this shore is perilous and fearful, while the other shore is safe and free from danger. But there is no boat for crossing nor is there a bridge for going over from this side to the other. So the man thinks: ‘This is a vast expanse of water; and this shore is perilous and fearful, but the other shore is safe and free from danger. There is, however, no boat here for crossing, nor a bridge for going over from this side to the other. Suppose I gather reeds, sticks, branches and foliage, and bind them into a raft.’ Now, that man collects reeds, sticks, branches and foliage, and binds them into a raft. Carried by that raft, labouring with hands and feet, he safely crosses over to the other shore. Having crossed and arrived at the other shore, he thinks: ‘This raft, indeed, has been very helpful to me. Carried by it, labouring with hands and feet, I got safely across to the other shore. Should I not lift this raft on my head or put it on my shoulders, and go where I like?’
 
“What do you think about it, O monks? Will this man by acting thus, do what should be done with a raft?”
 
“No, Blessed One”
 
“How then, monks, would he be doing what should be done with a raft? Here, monks, having got across and arrived at the other shore, the man thinks: ‘This raft, indeed, has been very helpful to me. Carried by it, and labouring with hands and feet, I got safely across to the other shore. Should I not pull it up now to the dry land or let it float in the water, and then go as I please?’ By acting thus, monks, would that man do what should be done with a raft?
 
“In the same way, monks, have I shown to you the Teaching’s similitude to a raft: as having the purpose of crossing over, not the purpose of being clung to.
 
“You, O monks, who understand the Teaching’s similitude to a raft, you should let go even (good) teachings, how much more false ones!”
 
(Buddha, from the AlagaddŇępama Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 22, Tipitaka)